Filled with retro house cuts, Eden insists upon a good time whenever Paul (Félix de Givry) or his DJ peers spin in various house parties and clubs, yet the prevailing atmosphere of Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is melancholic. One of the more sensitive contemporary directors of youth, Hansen-Løve flips the dynamic of Goodbye, First Love, a film in which the passage of time is keenly felt in the protagonist’s maturation and regression occurs from the reintroduction of outside elements. In this film, it’s everything around Paul that changes and outpaces him while he remains resolutely, depressingly, the same person at 34 that he was at 20.
This effectively turns the escapist EDM of the film’s soundtrack into an aural prison, a kind of music that celebrates young energy and then starts to mock those who cling to it for too long. In one scene, Paul and one of his increasingly young-looking collaborators debate the merits of various beats as they compose a new track, the mild, subjective variations only calling attention to the limits of 4/4 rhythm. Despite its pessimism, the film nonetheless does get lost in the moment whenever house pounds out of abysmally low-ended sound systems, and when Daft Punk is employed to comment on Paul’s own lack of artistic breakthrough, even he can’t resist the pleasures of “Da Funk” or “One More Time.” Still, Hansen-Løve’s primary aesthetic achievement is to capture the sense of a party dying out from fatigue. Too bad Paul’s too wasted to leave at last call.
Jon Stewart tries his hand at directing with Rosewater, the story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari’s (Gael García Bernal) imprisonment during the 2009 election protests in Iran. A spoof interview with The Daily Show contributed indirectly to Bahari’s prolonged detainment, and the film takes a tone befitting Stewart’s day job. Bahari may be the victim of a system that mixes inhuman supremacy and intimate paranoia, but the atmosphere is one of absurdity, a scathing estimation of a power structure that feels the need to torture to defend its supposedly omnipotent autocracy from even imagined slights that could topple it. Interrogation scenes don’t revel in the brutality of psychological and physical harm, but in the ludicrousness of the torturer’s (Kim Bodnia) own fanatical belief.
Unfortunately, the film rarely builds off the scenes between Bernal and Bodnia, who get no chance to play off each other and must carry out the intentionally repetitive, monotonous methods of extrajudicial detainment. The best moment comes when Bahari has an epiphany about how silly and revealing his tormentor’s preoccupations are and finds strength in a passive resistance of irony. But the numerous scenes of Bahari having hallucinatory conversations with his dead father and sister smack of clumsy dramatization of the journalist’s internal debate, a result of Stewart’s lack of greater facility with actors or the camera. Furthermore, the joyous ending only makes slight consideration for the man seen entering the torturer’s cell after Bahari, a man who won’t enjoy the relative safety of being a well-known journalist with international attention. The film celebrates Bahari emerging rattled though mostly unscathed, but I couldn’t help but feel only dread for that man taking his place.
Lisandro Alonso’s features have grown consecutively bolder and more experimental, so it’s no surprise that Jauja should supplant previous picture Liverpool as the director’s best to date. The first thing that sticks out about the film is its hyperreal, almost hyperbolic beauty: As shot by Timo Salminen, the film’s square frame boasts colors so rich they threaten to tip into fauvism, and deep background is used to such careful, precise effect that several scenes will likely lose their impact on home video thanks to action so small it can barely be seen on a big screen.
Nominally perpetuating the director’s penchant for evocative, minimalistic character study, Jauja uses the addition of Viggo Mortensen’s star power to, if anything, push his work into more abstract areas. Playing a Dutch captain stationed in South America’s Patagonia region, Mortensen’s Dinesen has just enough time to establish a simultaneous loving and too-protective relationship with his daughter before a rakish lover absconds with her and sends the man on rescue mission. Along the way, encounters with Inca warriors, hermits, and the inhospitably rocky terrain itself reduce frontier drama to isolated images redolent of museum dioramas. Given Mortensen’s taciturn, iconographic protagonist and the tendency of the location shooting to look set-controlled, this could almost pass for a modernist rendition of John Ford’s cavalry movies, one with more graphic illustration of colonial conflict. The film eventually takes sharp detours that befuddle the already interpretive nature of the story, adding layers that even the filmmaker admits he doesn’t fully comprehend. But that only makes Jauja more worthy of intense consideration and revisitation, and along with the Goodbye to Love and Horse Money, it feels like the most resonant and endlessly rewarding of this year’s TIFF slate.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 4—14.